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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man


December 30, 2007

This hawk, beautiful and formidable, was perched in the old honeysuckle bush outside our living room windows yesterday morning.

Babbie spotted him and alerted me. I got three shots off before I got greedy and moved closer. Startled, he spread his wings and flew. First to the top of our flag pole then to a branch of a neighbor's tree, where he spread his tail and preened before departing.

"No one but death the redeemer will humble that head," Robinson Jeffers wrote in his poem "Hurt Hawk". This hawk was not hurt but I can see what he meant. There is no humility in that head in the window, no softness.

Was it a good omen for 2008? I have no idea. I don't put much stock in omens. But I am looking forward to 2008, to the new paintings (mine and others'), to the old friends, to life with Babbie and our family, to a new president, to days in this old house that has been eyed by a hawk.

And I wish you a wonderful New Year, too.

P.S. If you know what species this is, I'd love to hear from you. Babbie thinks it might be a marsh hawk or a pigeon hawk.



December 28, 2007

This is a work in progress. It's part of the Monongahela Series I just started. (For two earlier pieces in this group see December 18 and 16.)

So far the most work has been making the four 12"x12" wooden supports for the painting. The easy part was sketching in the lines of the river and covering the rest of the surface with Level-Best to provide topography.

After the Level-Best, which is like cement, dries for 72 hours, I can start painting. Waiting that long is difficult for me. But the directions say

you have to give the moisture in the substance time to evaporate before painting it.

The painting on the right was one of three I finished this week. In this one the river is the thickest element.

Yesterday, I got some basketball in. We gave Riley a basketball for Christmas because she's very enthusiastic about the game now that she's playing in a youth league. We practiced dribbling and defense in her garage. She wore me out. Then we went in and played Battleship. She sunk my flotilla.


December 26, 2007

Drummer Boy, a digital photo taken last night. Photos by Grier Horner.

Christmas suddenly past, the little drummer boy on our tree is still marching. It's as if he's leading us toward the new year.

Remember when 2008 seemed so impossibly far away? Or when the 21st Century itself was a vague concept instead of a reality?

The top photo is another in a series of self portraits I've used during the 17 months this blog has been on the march.

In the photo to the left, the background for the blue ball is one of my Dresden Firebombing paintings.

As I think about the year ahead, Dresden is a subject I want to return to. Yesterday I was listening to Judy Collins' 1994 Christmas album "Come Rejoice!" (What a lovely voice, both as singer and song writer.)

Her "Song for Sarajevo" contains this line: "Then the fire came falling from the sky." It cries out to be the title of a new painting.


December 24, 2007

This is the Christmas moon as it looked at 5 a.m. Saturday from our living room. I hope it shines brightly tonight to help guide Santa on his rounds. Merry Christmas.


December 22, 2007

It's almost Christmas. Our tree isn't up yet. But it's cut and waiting. And the house is decked with wreaths, lights and ornaments.

This one is the large Victorian spiral that we hang by the sliding glass door. It gives a fisheye view of the interior of the addition and its deck and the neighborhood. There's also a self-portrait of an artist as an old man.

On Christmas Eve a baker's dozen of us will celebrate with a meal, wine, talk, laughter and memories of this annual ritual in this house with these people - all linked by birth, marriage or the test of time.


December 20, 2007

This is a photograph by Richard Prince, a famous contemporary artist now having a huge show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. This is also a photograph by Jim Krantz, a commercial photographer, who took it for Marlboro's famous cigarette ads featuring cowboys.

It was Krantz who shot the picture. All Prince did was photograph Krantz's photo, taking out the advertising copy, and blowing it up to heroic proportions. Krantz gets no credit from Prince and no money.

Prince is the prince of "appropriation art." That's a polite, high-art term for stolen art. This purloined piece sold at auction for $330,000. Another of Prince's Marlboro ad rip offs sold at auction two years ago for $1.2 million. Even though that money doesn't go to Prince, art's making him rich. The advertising photographs made him famous but he is also a painter and a teller of jokes on canvas, like this one: "A man comes home and finds his best friend in bed with his wife. The man throws up his hands in disbelief and says, 'Hey Rick, I have to, but you too?’"

Many in the art world hail Prince's thefts as honorable because they see him using them, as Mia Fineman put it in Slate, as "sophisticated critiques of the insidious myths of American consumer culture".

Even the Guggenheim's promotional banner for the show is stolen from Krantz's work. (The photo, above left, was taken by Marilynn K. Yee of The New York Times. The photo below is Prince.)

A Times art critic, Roberta Smith, in a September 28 review of the show called Prince "a brilliant artist."

Then on December 6th, in the same newspaper, came a fascinating story by Randy Kennedy, with this headline: If the Copy Is an Artwork, Then What’s the Original? A good slide show goes with it.

In from Chicago, Krantz was on his way to see Prince's show when he came across the promotional banner. That took him aback.                          

“My whole issue with this, truly, is attribution and recognition," Krantz told Kennedy. "It’s an unusual thing to see an artist who doesn't create his own work, and I don’t understand the frenzy around it.”

Mr. Krantz said he considered his ad work distinctive, not simply the kind of anonymous commercial imagery that he feels Mr. Prince considers it to be. “People hire me to do big American brands to help elevate their images to these kinds of iconic images,” he said.

A lot of things are begged, borrowed and stolen in the art world. I do it myself, I have to confess. But little of what goes on is as blatant as what Prince did. But the art world can be a strange, super-sophisticated place where irony can trump honesty.

“Richard Prince: Spiritual America” continues through Jan. 9 at the Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, at 89th Street; (212) 423-3500.


December 18, 2007

Grier Horner, Monongahela Sunset, 42"x27", Oil on Canvas, 2007

So here's the second in the Monongahela series. Hot off the press, finished yesterday. Unless I decide to mess around with it.

Jokingly I like to think of it and the first Monongahela (see my December 16 post) as a comet streaking for Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. It's located in the crotch of the yellow section, banded by the Ohio and Allegheny rivers. Their confluence forms the Monongahela - assuming I  understand confluence correctly.

Monday I rolled the snow blower out of the shed for the third time since Friday. In five days we've had 19 inches of snow.

The wind howled Sunday night and drifted in the paths and the six parking spots I keep open in case we have company. It was still raging when the orange machine started throwing its beautiful white rooster tail, blowing back in my face at times. That wakes you up.

Every morning when the school's have a snow day I call Riley's house. She always answers and I pretend I'm surprised she's there. Are you playing hookie again, I'll ask her.

Today she called me. "I'm playing hookie, Mom's playing hookie, the principal's playing hookie and the superintendent's playing hookie," she told me.

"Babbie and I play hookie every day," I told her.

Riley and Shannon were going to make gingerbread men and I meant to get over to eat one - if he didn't run away - but I didn't make it.


December 16, 2007

Grier Horner, Monongahela, 18"x14", Oil on Canvas, 2007

This is Monongahela. I finished it yesterday. Not the river, the painting. It reminds me of a comet hurtling toward the confluence of the three rivers in Pittsburgh. I have another confluence piece in the works.

Monongahela was salvaged from a canvas that had gone terribly wrong Wednesday. But that mistake had a silver lining - the bits of color that show up in gaps in the new coats of paint.

Saturday I walked on Pontoosuc Lake for the first time this season. No ice fishermen were out, except by the shore. That gave me pause. But there were a few snowmobile tracks etched into the deep snow. If the ice held them it would hold me.

I walked across the lake to the West Shore on the track you see here. I love being out on Pontoosuc in winter. Despite global warming, this is the earliest I can remember it freezing over.

My friend Leslie of Always Winter fame ventured out on the South Berkshire lake near her house on December 8, seven days before I got up the nerve. But she has an advantage. She's brave.


December 14, 2007

It's 8:30 in the morning. I've just gotten up. So that's why the hair is off kilter, not that its often on kilter. Like Katie Couric's, my face is in soft focus. Age has its privileges.

I inflicted a self portrait on you November 22. So this is a little soon. But in the spirit of the Bush administration I've decided to run it anyway.

What's the spirit of the administration? Anything Goes. We torture but Bush says it isn't torture. He's correct under the White House's definition. Basically, that definition is this: what doesn't kill you isn't torture. Thank God for a John McCain.

Sorry for going political on you. As punishment I'm going to have to roll the snow blower out of the shed tomorrow morning for the first time this season. We were hit by about a foot of snow yesterday. It started as Babbie and I cut down a Christmas tree on an honor-system tree farm high on a Lanesborough hillside. And it was still going at midnight.


December 12, 2007

Continental Drift No. 4, Oil on Canvas, 18"x14", Grier Horner

We're back to Continental Drift again as I continue to try to figure out how to paint abstractly. This is Number 4 in the series and two more are in the works.

Pictures of earlier works in this group can be seen on my November 20, 18 and 14 posts.

At the same time I've built four stretchers surfaced with plywood instead of canvas to continue exploring the Level-Best work that I showed you in the December 4 post. After doing the first on canvas, I realized the weight of the Level-Best required a solid painting surface. Maybe tomorrow I can get started with these. (Level-Best is a cement-like substance used for leveling floors before laying tile.

Saturday Babbie and I drove to  Wassaic and took the train to New York.

We took the subway uptown to Knoedler & Company to see the paintings Jules Olitski did in his last decade. He was 84 when he died early this year. This is the back cover of the catalogue for the show. Olitski's one of my art heroes not only because he kept painting to the end but because he kept painting prolifically after his burst of glory in the 1960s ended. That burst had included a one-man show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Then he was rediscovered about a dozen years ago and once again was being written about.

Speaking of the Met we saw the Age of Rembrandt show there. The Met has its Rembrandts hanging alongside paintings by his Dutch contemporaries like Frans Hals. Pretty  dazzling. If you need a reminder of why Rembrandt is considered a genius, this is it. It will be up until January 6. If you're there catch the Tara Donovan exhibit too.

Babbie wanted to walk back from the Met to Grand Central, something over 40 blocks. As we got down into the 50s, the sidewalks were a herring run of people and we seemed to be swimming against the tide. I love the city. But I also love to get out of it.



December 10, 2007

We were riding a crowded Green Line subway during the commuter rush recently when a teenaged girl wedged her way into the crush pushing a blue mountain bike. She was followed by a young woman with a defeated look who turned out to be her mother.

The doors should have closed then but they didn't. A voice came over the public address system saying that she couldn't bring a bike on board during rush hours.

The girl - I'd say she was 15 or 16 - turned to her mother.

"What do I do?"

"You have to leave it."

"But Ma." The girl's voice pleaded.

"Leave it."

The girl pushed it out the door and gave it  a shove. It fell to the platform and she reentered the car. Then she pivoted, went out and stood the bike against the wall and got in again.

A motorman came back to where we were and told the girl that if she left it unattended it would be stolen before she got back to get it.

The girl shrugged and he left. The door closed.

"We're the scum of the earth, Ma," the girl said as the train left the station. She looked desperate, wanting to do something and not knowing what to do. "We got nothing and when we get something they take it away from us."

Her mother didn't show any emotion that I could see. She was sitting on her backpack on the floor.

Her eyelids were drooping.

A thin young woman with dreadlocks tried to console the girl. She told her, "There's plenty of bikes out there for the picking."

The girl said something, which I couldn't quite make out, and then they weren't talking any more. It was nice of the young woman to try to help.      

"I woke up happy this morning," the girl said quietly, almost to herself. "What the fuck was I thinking?"

What's this got to do with the painting and the sculpture on today's post? Just that it unfolded as George and I headed to Porter Square to catch the train to Shirley after spending an hour at art galleries on tony Newbury Street. I talked to Hope Turner, the owner of the Arden Gallery, about some seven-foot-high chess pieces by Niho Kozuru. They're made of cast rubber and are translucent, beautiful with the light playing on them and through them.

I told Hope Turner, the owner of the gallery, I thought Ms. Kozuru's pieces and my chess series, depicting war, would work well together. I'm going to send her photos of the series done in 2002. The one at the top is The King is Toppled. It's about six feet high.

The life of an impoverished girl and an old man with enough money can differ pretty drastically on a late Friday afternoon on the MBTA.



December 8, 2007

This is a large painting of Marion Cotillard that I finished Friday. It is 64"x49" and is oil on canvas. It was done with pallet knives.

If you refer to my November 18 and 10th posts, you'll see the small initial painting I did and the sketch on the large canvas. As I put paint on, I found the face was off. I had to narrow her face and elongate the distance between her nose and chin. Looking at it now I may need to reshape the eye at the right of the painting.

Julie, a friend who does great portraits, tells me I should use a projector to put the face on the canvas. Somehow that seems too easy to me. My Berkshire Community College art teacher, Lisa Yetz, tells me there's no cheating in art. But I still feel more comfortable drawing it.

Here's a surprise: Cotillard did not pose for me. I saw her photo on the cover of the New York Times Style magazine and used that as my guide.

Cotillard was terrific playing Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, a movie I saw. I was amazed when I saw her pictures in The Times that such a beautiful woman had transformed herself into the shattered Piaf as she approached the end of her life. That's Ms. Cotillard as Piaf in the photo.     



December 6, 2007

Here's a second 12"x12" canvas I painted under the influence of Bram Bogart. (See my December 4 post.) It's called Fields of Gold.

I was going to call it Lay Me Down in Fields of Gold, but that seemed a little maudlin and a little long for such a short picture. The thick purple cross is made of Level Best, a floor-leveling cement, that I troweled on. It's mountainous surface is covered with spray paint. The fields are in oil.

The title, Fields of Gold, is taken from Stings beautiful love song, a song the late Eva Cassidy sang so hauntingly that I think of it as her elegy. A friend told me that Sting

was reportedly moved to tears when he heard her version.

Here's one of the last verses:

Many years have passed since those summer days
Among the fields of barley
See the children run as the sun goes down
As you lie in fields of gold.


December 4, 2007

I did this painting under the influence. Not of alcohol but of another old man, Bram Bogart.  I finished it Monday morning.

Bogart (see my November 16 post) paints with mortar into which he has mixed paint. I made this one out of Level-Best, a cement-like substance I use for sculpture. At its thickest point, the red stripe rises almost an inch from its canvas covered panel. The painting itself is only 12" x 12", one of the smallest I have ever painted.

This one is bound for the Storefront Artist Project Benefit Raffle on Dec. 12 from 8 to 10 p.m. All the donated paintings have to be 12 x 12.

From the dimension and the date someone came up with the clever title of 12x12 on 12.12. The proceeds go to funding the Storefront's Mentor Program, in which high school students work one on one with artists.

Bogart, a Belgian artist, is 86. I'm 72. The moral of this story: You're never too old to steal from the elderly.

A note about this blog. In November Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man had 104,701 hits. That is twice it's previous high, recorded in March.

December 2, 2007



This is a full page ad that artist Beth Tom took out in the current issues of Modern Painters and Dwell magazines to promote her artwork.

It was a bold move because of the cost. To take out an ad that size in Dwell runs into the mid-$20,000 range or higher, according to the magazine's ad rate sheet. I don't know Modern Painters rates.

It's a wonderful, eye catching ad and I emailed Beth to see if it had paid off.

I should have known from her webpage that she's a woman of few words. For her artists statement she says, "if i never read another artist's statement, it'll be too soon. so here's a poem by the great Ellen Bass Instead.

This is the note I got back.

"thank you for writing. i appreciate your interest in my work.

i don't really talk much. i'll quote this:

'gamble everything for love, if you're a true human being.' ~ Rumi"

It is a gamble and I hope it works out for her. I took out an ad myself a couple summers ago to promote my paintings. It was a billboard and cost $1,700. It didn't result in any sales. But I must say I loved driving by it.

P.S. Beth Tom's ad in Dwell was not exactly the same as the one run in Modern Painters. In Dwell the bib overalls cover all.

P.S.S. I love Beth's copy: This is all right, but I draw the line at cutting off my ear. And in a blog interview with Sb, Beth, who also goes by broyalty, had this to say:

Sb: Tell us a little about yourself.
broyalty: I’m mad hot and talented. i practice my violin a lot. i have 2 daughters and 4 dogs.
Sb: Where do you currently live and work?
broyalty: I’ve lived in Tempe, Arizona […]



Seth Harwood, writer

Leslie, poet

Joe Goodwin, painter

Juliane: bimbopolitics

Lisa Reinke, painter

John Mitchell, commentary

Charles Guiliano, MAVERIC, art critic

Saatchi Gallery

Steve Satullo, movies

Christine Heller, artist


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